elements, such as navigation regulations, anchorage procedures, traffic separation schemes, and improvements in the types and locations of navigation aids. Information needs and flows would be defined according to local needs, but the delivery methods and equipment would adhere to international standards.

A regime of appropriate rules, widely followed (and enforced as necessary), would make the operating environment orderly and predictable and is, therefore, a significant safety measure. Considerable documentation supports this thesis, including studies that credit a passive system of rules with significantly reducing traffic accidents in the Port of London (NRC, 1996). Strong anecdotal evidence shows that similar results have been achieved by harbor safety committees in California (Marsh and Richards, 1996). Self-policing can be highly effective, but it requires oversight coupled with the authority and capability to enforce rules. For example, a dramatic improvement was observed in self-policing in Los Angeles-Long Beach once the captain of the port had access to a surveillance system—a VTIS operated by the marine exchange with oversight by the local harbor safety committee (NRC, 1996).

Nautical Charting

Some progress has been made in updating hydrographic surveys and nautical charts of U.S. waters. Since 1994, approximately 5,000 square nautical miles designated as "critical needs areas" have been surveyed using modern methods (i.e., multibeam depth-sounding equipment that can cover the entire seafloor and DGPS for determining location); another 38,000 square miles judged to be critical need areas remain to be surveyed (NOAA, 1997a, 1997b). About 60 percent of the critical backlog is in Alaska (NOS, 1998).

In response to a congressional mandate, NOAA recently finalized a plan for reducing the backlog of requests for hydrographic surveys (NOS, 1998). The plan specifies outsourcing of at least 50 percent of its hydrographic services to private contractors. In the next 5 to 10 years, NOAA plans to contract out most of the data acquisition in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific coast of the mainland (NOS, 1998). The agency will also operate its own three survey ships, provide quality control, maintain nautical databases, ensure nationwide coverage, provide leadership in setting and meeting international standards, and work with the private sector and other federal agencies to develop new survey technologies. Even so, NOAA estimates that, at fiscal year 1998 annual funding levels, it will take 25 to 30 years to eliminate the existing survey backlog (NOAA, 1997b).

NOAA recognizes that maintaining a level of capability and expertise entails more than facilitating contracting efforts. The government must also retain expertise and competency in order to meet its international and other responsibilities. The public nature of these responsibilities cannot be readily transferred to, and are not appropriate for, the private sector (NOS, 1998).

In a complementary effort, the NOAA Office of Coast Survey has developed a plan for accelerating nautical chart updates for the busiest commercial ports and trade routes, as determined by the tonnage of goods that moves through them (NOAA, 1997a). Other high-priority areas include some coastal and cruise ship routes that have never been adequately surveyed. If resources continue to be severely limited, charts of lower priority areas will be published less frequently than in the past. The agency's FY 1998 budget will support the production of 360 new chart editions, 30 percent of the charts for U.S. waters (NOAA, 1997a). But many of these "updated" charts will not include new survey information because none is available.

NOAA is moving toward the production of IMO-compliant, fully digitized vector charts as rapidly as budgets allow (Lockwood, 1998). The agency plans to release 190 electronic navigation charts by the end of 1999 and will increase the number of electronic navigation charts as resources permit. NOAA will also continue to maintain raster charts and the Raster Chart Notice to Mariners Update Service.3

PORTS and "PORTS Lite"

Because PORTS has proven to be effective, users, at least in some areas, have agreed to help pay for its operation. PORTS is a sensor-based system, developed by NOAA, that gives vessels access to real-time data on currents, tides, winds, waves, temperatures, and salinity. The system helps mariners avoid collisions and groundings, assists in planning safe passage, and enables mariners to ascertain the drafts their vessels must maintain when transiting ports and waterways. Nautical charts show only minimum charted channel depths, but mariners need real-time water depths corrected to allow for changes caused by severe weather or abnormal tides.

PORTS is operational in Tampa Bay, New York Harbor, San Francisco Bay, and Galveston Bay. Six candidate areas have been identified for future systems (see Figure 3-1). Smaller systems, known as "PORTS Lite," are operational in Nikisiki and Anchorage, Alaska; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Baltimore, Maryland, and Hampton Roads, Virginia. All PORTS systems are operated and maintained with local funding; NOAA provides only the initial prototypes and overall quality control. Although this funding approach has enabled ports with active local initiatives to enjoy the benefits of this safety-enhancing system, it does not ensure safety benefits for all vessels that may need PORTS.


NOAA plans to continue to rely heavily on raster charts, which were initially created by passing paper charts through a scanner. The features in these raster charts cannot be deleted or manipulated individually. In contrast vector data consist of individual position and attribute information for each feature on the chart.

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